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Adolf Busch plays Bach and Beethoven
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in A minor BWV1041 [16:02] +
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [40:42] *
Romance No.1 in G major Op.40 [6:21] #
Romance No.2 in F major Op.50 [7:57] #
Adolf Busch (violin and director +)
Busch Chamber Players
rec. Town Hall NY, 26 March 1943 +
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Busch
rec. Carnegie Hall, 8 February 1942 *
WOR Radio Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein
rec. 21 February 1942 #
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1183 [61:03]

Until recently the realisation that Adolf Busch had not left behind a commercial recording of the Beethoven Concerto was a thoroughly dispiriting one. The gloom has been at least partly lifted by the recent appearance of two performances given on successive days. The first was given in Carnegie Hall on 8 February 1942 with the NYPSO conducted by Busch’s brother Fritz, which is the performance preserved here. The following day the same forces went into the studios to record the concerto, a performance that was never issued at the time, the soloist selflessly and maybe uniquely objecting to his forward position in the balance. This performance has now been issued by both Biddulph (see review) and by Instituto Discografico Italiano (see review). Both reviews are noted above. I should add that this unreleased studio performance first appeared on a Brüder-Busch-Gesellschaft LP but it had limited circulation.
One would not expect many, if any, profound differences between performances given on consecutive days by the same forces. The tension of the recording doubtless didn’t help matters, though, and it’s noticeable that the concert performance is that bit freer and more spontaneous. The sound, it’s true, is rather boxy with treble sound rather constricted. But at important points one does hear a deal of detail – the wind solos, for instance, are prominent. Busch’s opening octaves do sound to me, as they sounded in the studio performance, tentative and there are minor technical lapses from him from time to time. The compensations however are those of profoundly sagacious architectural understanding and an ability to coalesce a work that often splinters in lesser hands, into an organic whole. With Busch this is a concerto and not a parade of three discrete movements.
His playing has the accustomed fluidity of expression and lyricism one expects of him – listen to the shaping of the line at 11.30 (ravishing) and the unforced tempi he and Fritz adopt. It may sound fanciful but when one listens to Busch one never hears mere “passagework” – one hears musical bedrock, architectural, the real thing. It’s also intriguing to hear his own newly unveiled cadenzas. The slow movement is rapt, celestial, relaxed and beautiful – and I defy you to resist him, especially in moments when tonal warmth is so palpable. The finale is vigorous but again not too quick. I don’t find this movement always quite so effective in his hands but I did like those big New York basses, and they add drama and depth. A marvellous survival then, rightly brought to us.
A year earlier he’d played the two Romances at a War Bond benefit concert with Alfred Wallenstein conducting and despite the rather congested sonics and acetate noise we can still appreciate his guileless way with them; excellent additions to the important Busch discography.
The Bach is noted as previously unreleased but this actually has been issued by Pearl (see review) – as noted above, where I commented that I enjoyed the performance greatly, especially the slow movement. Of the two transfers the Pearl preserves more of the highs and the room ambience and it’s theirs that I prefer.
The typically accomplished notes are by Busch biographer Tully Potter though I’m sure he will have Efrem Zimbalist admirers on his back for daring to suggest that Busch had the Longest Bow in the West; pros have always awarded Zimbalist that honour.
Jonathan Woolf

Accustomed fluidity of expression and lyricism … one hears musical bedrock, the real thing. Rapt, celestial, relaxed and beautiful –I defy you to resist him ... see Full Review


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